Relaxing day. Our plans were to tour the Augusta Victoria Hospital, the rest of the Lutheran World Federation grounds, eat lunch at the guest house and have a conversation about how to share our experience as we transition back into our “normal” lives. The late afternoon was set aside for free time and then order some pizza for dinner. This schedule, if you’ve been following along with our trip, was considerably less busy than our previous days and appeared to be less emotionally overwhelming.
It held true to these expectations, except for my time in the Garden of Gethsemane. For my free time, i joined a small group that was going to check out the holy sites just down the road at the bottom of the Mount of Olives. When we got to the garden, I was overwhelmed with the peacefulness of it. Most of the holy sites we had visited were filled with tour groups, huge chapels, and an overwhelming sense of a need to go with haste. This site was different, there was no pushing to get to the front, no loud speeches on the history and importance of the location, no entrance fee, just an atomosphere of sacredness.
This feeling continued as I made my way into the chapel, or The Basilica of Jesus’ Agony. As I entered my eyes had difficulty adjusting to the dark but then the incredible beauty hit. The floors, walls, and ceilings were done in gorgeous mosaic, the windows were each a simple yet elegant stained glass cross, and the altar space was indescribable. The point that grabbed my attention and centered my toughts was the image of Jesus clinging to a rock as He prayed in agony to God. I’m not Jesus , so i can’t explain what he experienced in that place. But I was filled with comfort and reassurance as I sat and meditated on the fact that Jesus also experienced agony. Jesus sought out a place to be in agony, to sit and process/feel the emotions that He was experiencing. This fact comforted me as I sat with my heart broken open from this experience, in sadness and maybe even agony for the people i had met, for the stories I had heard. From the Palestinians, the Israelis, the tourists, the diplomats, the Muslims, the Jews, to the Christians, all of their stories layed heavy on my heart. In that moment I felt comforted in the knowledge that God is heartbroken over this also.
I can’t recall where I heard it, but i have learned that the definition of sin is anything that breaks apart the unity of humanity. I am unable to fully grasp the brokeness in these lands, but I hold firm to the belief that it is not something that pleases God. But rather peace, community, grace, compassion, and unity are characteristics of a healthy person, a strong humanity, and a pleased God. My prayer will continue to be that these values soon replace conflict and become defining features of the Holy Land and even the Middle East. It seems utterly and almost stupidly optimistic to be hopeful. But I believe in a God of resurrection, healing, and reconciliation and I know in my heart that conflict and hate are not a part of that and must be eradicated from our lives, here and back home. As we continue to work and pray for peace, I must remind myself that dwelling in agony is a necessary part of the process, that a heart that is broken is difficult to close and become hard, and that God is good, loving, and full of grace and peace.